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Pirog, Anthony: Pocket Poem (Cuneiform)

Blurring the lines between jazz and rock in ECM and blues-tinged playing in compositions with a solid melodic center, Washington-area guitarist Anthony Pirog presents an album of lyrical music tinged by electronics and rich with evocative environments, performed with Michael Formanek on acoustic and electric bass, and Chess Smith on drums, percussion & electronics.

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product information:

UPC: 045775046822

Label: Cuneiform
Catalog ID: Rune 468
Squidco Product Code: 29858

Format: CD
Condition: New
Released: 2020
Country: USA
Packaging: Jewel Case
Recorded at The Brink Analogue Studio, in Centreville, Virgina, by Mike Reina.


Anthony Pirog-guitar, electronics

Michael Formanek-acoustic bass, electric bass

Ches Smith-drums, percussion, electronics

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Artist Biographies:

"Born in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, but raised in the D.C. suburb of Vienna, Virginia, guitarist Anthony Pirog first came to national prominence as one half of the instrumental duo Janel & Anthony, with virtuoso cellist Janel Leppin. The pair's 2012 Cuneiform release Where Is Home garnered critical acclaim for their seamless electro-acoustic fusion of myriad styles, ranging from classical and folk to rock and jazz. Pirog's own multi-faceted approach to the guitar has its roots in the music of regional favorites like Danny Gatton, whose virtuosic fretwork similarly combined numerous styles of popular music.

Pirog has performed with a wide variety of musicians, ranging from avant-garde icons like Henry Kaiser, Elliott Sharp and William Hooker to roots and rockabilly legends such as Billy Hancock, Bill Kitchen and Tab Benoit. He has even played with ex-Smashing Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chambelain in the power trio Skysaw. He currently leads a number of ensembles, from trio to septet."-Troy Collins

-Point of Departure (

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"One marker of bassist Michael Formanek's creativity and versatility is the range of distinguished musicians of several generations he's worked with. While still a teenager in the 1970s he toured with drummer Tony Williams and saxophonist Joe Henderson; starting in the '80s he played long stints with Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, Fred Hersch and Freddie Hubbard. (As a callback to those days, Formanek recorded with hardbop pianist Freddie Redd in 2013). The bassist has played a pivotal role on New York's creative jazz scene going back to the '90s when he notably led his own quintet and played in Tim Berne's barnstorming quartet Bloodcount. Nowadays Formanek's in the co-op Thumbscrew with Brooklyn guitarist Mary Halvorson and drummer Tomas Fujiwara.

Formanek is also a composer and leader of various bands. His principal recording and international touring vehicle is his acclaimed quartet with Tim Berne on alto saxophone, Craig Taborn on piano and Gerald Cleaver on drums, which records for ECM; 2010's The Rub and Spare Change and 2012's Small Places both earned coveted five-star raves in Down Beat. Formanek writes, and the quartet plays, compositions of great rhythmic sophistication that unfold in a natural sounding way - challenging music the players make sound like lyrical free expression. His occasional groups include the 18-piece all-star Ensemble Kolossus, roping in many New York improvisers he works with. Ensemble Kolossus recorded their first CD of all Formanek originals for the prestigious ECM label in December of 2014. The CD, The Distance was released in February 2016 and in addition to numerous other accolades also received a five-star review in Downbeat!

Formanek's other recordings as leader include Wide Open Spaces and Extended Animation for quintet and Low Profile and Nature of the Beast for seven players (all on Enja), and the solo album Am I Bothering You? (Screwgun). Mirage (Clean Feed) is by the occasional improvising trio of Formanek, tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin and pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn. Thumbscrew's 2014 debut is on Cuneiform Records. Michael Formanek has also made dozens of recordings as sideman, for among others Dave Ballou, Tim Berne, Jane Ira Bloom, Dave Burrell, Harold Danko, Marty Ehrlich, Tomas Fujiwara, Gary Thomas and Jack Walrath.

As composer of works for ensembles from duo to mixed jazz and classical orchestra, Michael Formanek has received institutional support from Chamber Music America, the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, the Peabody Conservatory, the Maryland State Arts Council and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. As an educator, Formanek teaches bass and other jazz courses, and leads the Jazz Ensemble at Baltimore's Peabody Conservatory."

-Michael Formanek Website (

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"Born in San Diego, CA and raised in Sacramento, Ches Smith came up in a scene of punks and metal musicians who were listening to and experimenting with jazz and free improvisation. He studied philosophy at the University of Oregon before relocating to the San Francisco Bay area in 1995. After a few years of playing with obscure bands and intensive study with drummer / educator Peter Magadini, he enrolled in the graduate program at Mills College in Oakland at the suggestion of percussionist William Winant. There he studied percussion, improvisation, and composition with Winant, Fred Frith, Pauline Oliveros and Alvin Curran. One of Winant's first "assignments" for Ches was to sub in his touring gig at the time, Mr. Bungle (here he met bassist / composer Trevor Dunn who would later hire him for the second incarnation of his Trio-Convulsant). During his time at Mills, Ches co-founded two bands: Theory of Ruin (with Fudgetunnel / Nailbomb frontman Alex Newport), and Good for Cows (w/ Nels Cline Singers' Devin Hoff). He currently performs and records with Xiu Xiu, and Secret Chiefs 3. He has also performed with Ben Goldberg, Annie Gosfield, Wadada Leo Smith, John Tchicai, Fred Frith, and Trevor Dunn. In addition to Ceramic Dog, he also leads his two of his own projects, Congs for Brums and These Arches. He currently spends his time between Los Angeles, San Francisco and Brooklyn."

-Ches Smith Website (

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track listing:

1. Dog Daze 2:58

2. Dawn Cloud 2:01

3. Honeymoon Room 5:11

4. Sitting Under Stars 1:59

5. The Severing 2:33

6. Adonna The Painter 5:36

7. Danger Play 0:57

8. Pocket Poem 1:55

9. Mori Point 1:46

10. Part And Particle 1:17

11. Beecher 2:49

12. Spinal Fusion 1:55

13. Untitled Atlas 5:02

14. Deetjen 2:13
sample the album:

descriptions, reviews, &c.

"In music, the art of the trio involves a delicate balance and holds the potential for great power. On Anthony Pirog's Pocket Poem, his second solo album and fifth release on D.C. based Cuneiform Records, the Washington D.C. alt guitar hero and his rhythm section wring all the beauty, majesty, and mayhem possible from their triumvirate. Pirog is to guitar what Michael Jordan was to basketball - he's capable of anything he can conceive, and his conception covers quite a bit, from ambient atmospheres and mind-melting electronic subversions of sound to lyrical acoustic picking and fiery fusion.

One of Pirog's most recent projects before releasing Pocket Poem was a band that redefines the rock power trio. Pirog teamed with hometown legends Brendan Canty and Joe Lally of punk rock superband Fugazi to form The Messthetics, releasing two albums on Ian MacKaye's iconic D.C. label Dischord and delivering their post-post-punk brain/brawn merger to tens of thousands at the 2019 Coachella festival.

But rock is not the only arena in which trios hold a powerful say; some of jazz's greatest moments were also realized by trios. Pirog had studied jazz guitar and performance at Berklee College of Music and NYU during his college years. When he partnered with two other jazz stalwarts - acoustic bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Ches Smith - for his first solo session, 2014's Palo Colorado Dream (Cuneiform Records) he happened upon a special kind of chemistry. Formanek is a jazz vet who's recorded with Dave Liebman, Fred Hersch, and the Mingus Big Band, as well as popping up on albums by Elvis Costello and the like. Smith is a fixture of the downtown NYC scene who's worked with other forward-thinking guitar conceptualists like Mary Halvorson, Marc Ribot, and Elliott Sharp, in addition to making records with Tim Berne, John Zorn, and countless others. When the three first came together, their ability to egg each other on to fresh territory led to some lightning-in-a-bottle moments.

For Pocket Poem, Pirog's second solo project, he decided to expand the trio's palette by mixing modern technology with vintage guitar synthesizers. "The use of guitar synths by John Abercrombie and Allan Holdsworth is very interesting to me," he says, "and I wanted to explore the timbral possibilities available using these instruments in the recording process."

Envision Adrian Belew, Tortoise, Bill Frisell, Bert Jansch, and Brian Eno squeezing into a particle accelerator. The end result after flipping the switch might sound something like Pocket Poem. The album touches on every aspect of Pirog's musical personality - rock, jazz, avant garde, electronic, even folk - and with his cohorts' contributions, it all arrives at a place that's progressive in the most literal sense. At once exploratory and reflective, subtle and storm-brewing, organic and high-tech, Pocket Poem establishes Pirog's place not just as a major guitar threat but also as a gifted composer."-Cuneiform Records

Related Categories of Interest:

Improvised Music
Free Improvisation
Trio Recordings
NY Downtown & Metropolitan Jazz/Improv
Melodic and Lyrical Jazz
New in Improvised Music
Recent Releases and Best Sellers

Other Releases With These Artists:
Thumbscrew (Fujiwara / Halvorson / Formanek)
Never Is Enough [VINYL + DOWNLOAD]
Thumbscrew (Fujiwara / Halvorson / Formanek)
Never Is Enough
Zorn, John (Gosling / Hashimoto / Roeder / Smith)
Heaven and Earth Magick
Zorn, John
Warriors of the Wonderful Sound Expanded Ensemble, The
(Clean Feed)
Kang, Eyvind
Ajaeng Ajaeng [VINYL 2 + DOWNLOAD CODE]
(Ideologic Organ)
Berne's, Tim Snakeoil
The Deceptive 4 Live [2 CDs]
Fujii, Satoko / Orchestra New York
Torn, David / Tim Berne / Ches Smith
Sun Of Goldfinger
Formanek, Michael Elusion Quartet
Time Like This
Webber, Anna
(Pi Recordings)
Ballou, Dave / Beephonk
The Windup
(Clean Feed)
Thumbscrew (Michael Formanek / Tomas Fujiwara / Mary Halvorson)
(Cuneiform Records)
Thumbscrew (Michael Formanek / Tomas Fujiwara / Mary Halvorson)
(Cuneiform Records)
Lee, Okkyung
Cheol-Kkot-Sae (Steel.Flower.Bird)
Zorn, John
The Urmuz Epigrams
Thumbscrew (Halvorson / Formanek / Fujiwara)
Alcorn, Susan
(Relative Pitch)
Sharp, Elliott Aggregat
(Clean Feed)
Mitchell, Matt
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Eskelin, Ellery with Susan Alcorn and Michael Formanek
(Clean Feed)
Pride, Mike
Drummer's Corpse
(Aum Fidelity)
Smith, Ches and These Arches (Smith / Berne / Malaby / Halvorson / Parkins)
(Clean Feed)
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A Color Photo of the Horse
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Arguelles, Julian Trio
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(Clean Feed)
Staiano's, Moe! - MOE!KESTRA!
2 Rooms Of Uranium Within 83 Markers: Conducted Improvisations, Vol.II
(Edgetone Records)
Recommended & Related Releases:
Other Recommended Releases:
Zorn, John (Gosling / Hashimoto / Roeder / Smith)
Heaven and Earth Magick

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